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The Confluence Garden: A Space For Growing Community

December 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Here at the Confluence Garden we’re gearing up for winter. That means bringing in the irrigation hosing, tucking in the garlic bed with a blanket of straw, building row cover structures to protect our more tender perennials, and battening down the hoop house hatches to enable some winter planting. It also means starting to think about next spring. And, let me tell you, we’ve got some big plans for next spring! We’re hoping to ramp up production in order to supply some veggies to programs at NCI’s Environmental Learning Center, to support the summer graduate program, and to provide fresh produce to the Marblemount Food Bank. We’ll also be expanding our educational programming—working with community partners in the valley and with NCI programs to welcome more students and community members into the garden space than ever before.

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Graduate students construct a bamboo row cover for the herb garden.

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Gathering up the irrigation hoses for winter.

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The Confluence Garden hoop house.

We hope that you join us at one of our community work parties this Spring! Because this garden is more than just a space for growing food and teaching hands-on lessons about food systems, gardening practices, and plant biology. It’s first and foremost a space for growing community, for getting our hands a little dirty as we build connections between one another and the land here in the upper Skagit.

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The Blue House and Confluence Garden space in Marblemount.

Thank you for your support! Stay tuned to ChatterMarks for more about what’s happening at the Confluence Garden!

Title photo includes Rachael Grasso and Dan Dubie picking herbs during the fall harvest party at the Confluence Garden. 

Written by Alexei Desmarais, Cohort 16 Graduate Student. All photos courtesy of Angela Burlile

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Skinning for Science: A Bobcat Casestudy

June 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Holli Watne, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

On Jan 5th, 2016 the residents of the Blue House (our Marblemount property) discovered a dead bobcat in the garage.

The cause of death was unknown, but no evidence of trauma was found. The carcass was quickly moved to the biological specimens freezer in the North Cascades Institute’s lab, where it has served as a great teaching tool for hundreds of Mountain School participants this year.

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Holding up a bobcat

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Bobcat found under bicycles in barn.

But for an item as popular as the bobcat, the freezer is not a very sustainable solution.
It is bad for the specimen to be constantly moved in and out of the freezer. Also, it takes up a lot of space – and there’s not much to spare in the freezer.

» Continue reading Skinning for Science: A Bobcat Casestudy

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iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

May 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Are your candles ready? Because this summer the National Park Service turns 100! Instead of getting America’s best idea a birthday cake or a gift card, they want only one thing for this special occasion: to get all citizens involved with America’s outdoors. One of the easiest ways to get involved is through their BioBlitz:

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. In 2016, BioBlitz goes national. The cornerstone National Parks BioBlitz: Washington, D.C. will take place May 20-21, with more than a hundred concurrent BioBlitzes happening at national parks across the county. -National Park Service

One of those concurrent BioBlitzes is happening in the North Cascades National Park. We at the North Cascades Institute can’t wait to participate this weekend in the events happening all over the region. On the checklist of preparation are just two things:

  • Sign up to join a BioBlitz species inventory (including but not limited to lichens, fungi, mosses, beetles and squirrels)
  • Download the free iNaturalist app and join the North Cascades National Park 2016 BioBlitz project

When I downloaded the app and explored my own backyard, I was not only preparing for the BioBlitz but also learning something about the place that I have been living at since December.

» Continue reading iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

» Continue reading Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

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LEED by Example

April 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

We are the North Cascades Institute. And if you are reading this blog you are somehow affiliated with or are curious about our organization devoted to environmental education. You may know us through Mountain School, Adult learning programs, Snow School, Youth Leadership Adventures, Family Getaways, Stewardship Events, Kulshan Creek Programs, our M.Ed. Graduate Program, Skagit Tours or perhaps you stumbled upon us hiking or driving Highway 20 beneath the steep contour of Sourdough Mountain. You may or may not know that our mission is to “conserve and restore Northwest environments through education.” No matter your age, we believe that place-based education in the rain drenched mossy, cascade cut forests or heather dotted, steep rocky alpine landscape makes a lasting impression. Our programs speak for themselves, but you may or not know about our sustainability efforts.

How effective is an organization that does not employ its values on a daily basis? The North Cascades Institute embodies what we believe sustains the vitality of this ecosystem and beyond. Our unique location, one hour from a grocery store and an hour and a half from a hospital, create obstacles that we are always navigating with different paddles.

But to give you a glimpse into how we operate sustainably at the base of the Cascades, let me tell you how we, this community of 50+ people, attempt to tread lightly while serving nearly 5,000 clients at 1200 feet.

Thirty years ago, Saul Weisberg and friends crafted an idea while hiking and climbing the silent, ancient peaks in the North Cascades National Park. The idea was for an educational institution which eventually led to the serendipitous construction of the Environmental Learning Center 11 years ago. The arduous details aren’t as important as the intention behind them. Change through education.

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OUR BUILDINGS:

The Environmental Learning Center is LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council based on our level of sustainability! LEED certification is awarded to buildings that are efficient, use less energy and water and create less impact on the environment both in the construction process and during operation. Our foundation is one of recycled structures upon which we expanded.

  • We respect our environment! Most of our buildings are built upon preexisting foundations for minimal impact to native vegetation and landscape, which still thrives today. Our campus is built into the landscape, working with naturally occurring barriers, slopes, and light.
  • We support local economies! Local and regional materials were used in construction of our facility.
  • We recycle! Salvaged wood was used to craft the front gate, the maple flooring in one of the classrooms and the heart pine flooring in staff housing.
  • We care about you! The woodwork inside of the buildings at the Learning Center does not contain composite wood like particle board or plywood that can contain formaldehyde in glues.
  • We used the natural landscape to our advantage in the construction of the buildings on campus. Windows are south and west facing when possible to absorb as much light as possible.

» Continue reading LEED by Example

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A Call to Education toward Resilience

December 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

by Liz Blackman, Cohort 14, Institute Master of Education candidate

The shift was abrupt. It came with little warning. As smoke billowed up the Newhalem Gorge and filled the tiny mountain town of Diablo, I had 20 minutes to grab everything I could. I felt an adrenaline rush unlike anything I have ever experienced: a heart-pumping, exhilaration-fueled energy that poured out like a shield against the danger all around me.

The Goodell Wildfire started out small, but on a hot and dry day in August, winds picked up and fanned the flames into the canyon toward Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. The order to evacuate came sudden, and for the first time in my life, I was a refugee from natural disaster, an increasingly common occurrence as our global climate continues to change. I evacuated from my home of over a year with everything I owned piled in my car.

Along with a caravan of other evacuees who were now blocked from heading west on Highway 20, I traveled east over Washington Pass, and into evacuation zone after evacuation zone with much of central Washington on fire. I didn’t slow down enough to feel scared until I woke up in Seattle the next morning, far from my North Cascades home, and realized all that was still in jeopardy.

With long hours, and living far away from other people and services, we had become like family at the Learning Center – working, learning, playing, crying, laughing and growing together. During the fire, this family of mine was scattered to the wind, our roots shaken as the flames closed in. It didn’t feel right to be away from this home even though my graduate school residency was scheduled to be over and I would soon be moving to Bellingham anyway. So I drove back up Highway 20 until I reached the comforting basecamp that was the Marblemount Blue House.

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The Institute purchased this old ranch house on the Skagit River to house five staff and graduate students. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
The Blue House was now buzzing with frenzied activity. As I approached I saw sixteen recently arrived graduate students from Cohort 15 standing in a circle along with several Institute naturalists, Learning Center operations staff and the program team. The relief that flooded me at the sight of so many members of my community was immense.

A busload of stuff

The Blue House was now an anthill of human activity. The hayfield turned into a gridlocked parking lot of Subarus filled with haphazard piles of well-loved odds and ends. Blue House residents like Max and Dylan served as comforting leaders and a welcoming hospitality team. They directed bathroom traffic, weed-wacked to create camping sites, streamlined kitchen and living spaces for communal use and generally guided the rest of the wide-eyed refugees through the logistics of close-quarters life. Kitchen staff Coleen, Derrick, Kristi and Kent breathed comfort into the food they produced with the tenderness all of us craved in our time of disorientation. Kevin, Lindsey and Joshua on the program team alternated between taking charge and meeting the infinite needs of a bevy of homeless staff and students.

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Maps

Never in my life have I seen such resilience as it emerged during those first few days following the fire. The extended North Cascades Institute “family” offered homes, supplies and endless messages of support. Sedro-Woolley office staff worked late into the night developing contingency plans for fall programs and getting information out to the public. And our crew at the Blue House improvised spectacularly.

» Continue reading A Call to Education toward Resilience